BATON ROUGE (AP) — Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being asked to rule Louisiana in compliance with older smog standards, five metro areas don’t meet the most recent, tighter ozone standard.
The Baton Rouge area, which has failed to meet EPA ozone standards since the first was set in 1997, has now met that mark and one set in 2005 for three years in a row, putting the whole state in compliance, the state Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday.
However, the 2008 data show that the Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Houma, Lafayette and Shreveport areas don’t meet the tighter standard set last March, said Michael Vince, administrator of DEQ’s air quality assessment division.
The Lake Charles area is right at that new standard and St. James Parish is just below it, he said.
States have until March 12 to tell the EPA which areas they expect to fail those standards in 2010, and changes between now and then could affect the list, Vince said.
In the meantime, he said, DEQ is working with governments, businesses and citizens in all of those areas to look for ways to reduce air pollution. For instance, where construction equipment is a major source of pollution, governments might ask companies to limit the time that machinery is allowed to idle — or even write such restrictions into their contracts, Vince said.
Last March, EPA reduced the amount of ozone that should be allowed in the air for it to be considered healthy from 85 parts per million (ppm) during any eight-hour period to 75 ppm, with a target date of 2010. Environmental organizations sued, saying that is too lax.
Baton Rouge got its eight-hour readings down to 83 ppm last year. But the only metro area well below 75 ppm last year was Monroe, at 66 ppm, Vince said.
He said other eight-hour readings last year were 79 ppm in the New Orleans metro area, 77 ppm in Houma-Thibodaux, 77 in the Lafayette area, 76 in the Shreveport area, 75 in the Lake Charles area and 74 in St. James Parish.
The Lake Charles area is “sitting on the fence. But they’re within the standard right now,” Vince said.
The state is also in talks with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, which notified both DEQ and EPA last year that it planned to sue on grounds that the agencies failed to follow a court order handed down in January 2007 by a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
The groups went to court after Louisiana and the EPA extended the deadline for the Baton Rouge area to meet the 1997 standard from 1999 to 2005. LEAN’s suit was consolidated with one filed in Washington, where the appeals court ruled that EPA had to enforce penalties for failing to meet the standard.
LEAN’s letter of intent, filed in July, said the agencies haven’t put together an enforceable plan for further reduction of ozone levels, with automatic “contingency measures” for failure to cut those levels.
They also haven’t collected fees they are supposed to impose on plants that haven’t reduced emissions by 20 percent, said Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which represents LEAN.
“It’s been delayed to the point there’s going to be an administrative change at EPA. SO I think it’s going to be a little longer before EPA has a suggested approach to this,” Babich said Tuesday.